Sheffield’s early attempt to lure in tourists with 1879 guide

I’ve been lucky enough to spend many happy hours in Sheffield’s Archives Department and Local Studies Library as I’ve researched books on the city’s recent history.

Thursday, 16th July 2020, 10:00 am

But one title stuck with me. I liked it because I always had an interest in Sheffield as a tourist destination.

Some decades have found the city shouting about its tourist traps from the rooftops; other periods have seen it giving up the visitor ghost altogether.

I regularly worked with Destination Sheffield in the mid-1990s – they were the then tourism arm of the council. Major resource and prominence was given to attracting tourists in that period.

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The resplendent Cole Bros store in 1879

A few years later – following the success of The Full Monty – the city had a bit of an identity crisis. Tourism became a dirty word in the corridors of power.

That was then and this is now. But even today we’re without a physical tourist information centre.

The 1879 Illustrated Guide to Sheffield is a truly jaw-dropping feat of research, written word and illustration. The first edition actually came out in 1862 but this version, as far as I’m concerned, is the biggest and the best.

When libraries shut their doors in March following the covid pandemic, it was a massive loss to me and thousands of other people with an interest in local history.

The Botanical Gardens in Sheffield

Many titles are available on easy-to-use digital formats like Kindle but an 1879 edition of the guide has to be sought out in the flesh – and that’s no mean feat. I’m one of the few people in the world that hold an original copy (thanks, eBay!)

So I used lockdown to ensure a version of the book is available forever more.

My abridged 1879 Illustrated Guide to Sheffield is without a doubt one of most fascinating titles ever written about the city (or town as it was then). It offers retail therapy in Cole Bros, a sumptuous dinner in the Cutlers' Hall and a relaxing night's sleep at the Royal Victoria Hotel.

In short, it offers all the hallmarks of a 21st-century Sheffield marketing brochure but with a distinctly Victorian twist!

Highfield Library is recognisable but its surroundings have changed

It was a period that saw the earliest tram routes opening out to Attercliffe, Hillsborough and Nether Edge and cocoa and coffee houses provided entertainment in the shape of billiards and bagatelle.

Many street names, buildings and traditions have survived to this day - just as many have not. The Sheffield Club, frequented by the elite of the town, is no longer with us but working men's clubs, which began springing up in 1871, were on their ascendancy right across the town.

The cult of celebrity was alive and kicking in 1879, there's actually a chapter entitled Sheffield Celebrities. The most notable was poet James Montgomery.Memories of the Great Sheffield Flood of 1864 were still very real and evident 15 years later.

The long-gone Sheffield Club, once a haunt of the city's elite

There's a big section devoted to the flood which is, even now, the biggest man-made disaster of its type in the country's history.

It was a time when football was gaining in popularity, there's horseracing in Broomhill and a bicycle practice area in Sharrow Vale.

One of the most popular attractions definitely won’t make it to Sheffield’s top tips of 2020. That was a trip to the South Yorkshire Lunatic Asylum at Wadsley Park.

It offers "extensive lawns, flower gardens and shrubberies" with all general maintenance "performed by the lunatics".

The book was originally published by Pawson and Brailsford, a Sheffield printers that survived up to around 1970.

The 1879 Illustrated Guide to Sheffield – Abridged is available now on Amazon (£8.95 on Kindle and £11.95 paperback).

The Leopold Hotel in the 1879 guide

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Neil Anderson with his reproduction of the 1879 illustrated guide to Sheffield and the original version
Firth Park, looking every inch the rural idyll